Most films aim to entertain and inform audiences, a few aspire for changes in society. “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Israel’s entry in the foreign-language Oscar race, is hoping to change Israeli law.
“Gett,” the third in a trilogy from brother-and-sister filmmaking team Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz, shows the conclusion of one woman’s attempt to get a divorce in Israel, where only rabbinical courts can dispense them and only with the husband’s acquiescence. This process takes years.
The Elkabetzes have been at work on and off for a dozen years on the films following the character, Viviane Amsalem, starting with her as a young businesswoman. Like “Boyhood,” which wowed audiences with its true-life progression, the Elkabetzes’ trilogy checks in with Viviane’s quest for freedom, unfolding over the years in the courtroom where the two divorcing parties, witnesses and the judges come and go.
“We had so much material about this woman that we knew one film cannot be enough,” says Ronit, who plays Viviane.
After its Israel launch, it sparked debate about the country’s divorce law.
“It’s incredible the reception this film has been getting around the world,” Shlomi says. “Since we put the film out in Cannes this year, it took the film 24 hours to sell to 34 territories. The next day the critics came out wall-to-wall with amazing reviews. When we made the film it was Ronit and me, the actors and crew in a small room. But the film talks to so many people, it’s not only heart-warming it gives you strength to do what you want to do.”
In Israel, the film has started a movement to change the law, which goes back to the Turkish Ottoman period. The rabbinical court administration is planning to show the movie at the annual gathering of Israeli rabbinical judges in February.
“We wanted to describe a situation, we wanted to say in Israel today, this is the situation, this is the fact,” Ronit says. “Maybe we can do something together with that awareness.”
Divorce courts, which are closed to the general public, could be opened up. “Unless you’re getting divorced you cannot enter the court, so nobody knows” what goes on in there, Shlomi says.
Meanwhile, audiences want to know the next chapter in the Amsalems’ story.
“The question is, do we continue or are we finished with this couple?,” Ronit says. “I’m not sure.”